Off Broadway Review: Oh, Hell

Hell isn't much fun in "Oh, Hell," the double bill that opens the Lincoln Center Theater's season at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater. David Mamet's contribution is intermittently amusing but below par for him, and the Shel Silverstein opus is silly and tedious.

The Silverstein piece, "The Devil and Billy Markham," is a shaggy-dog narrative poem about a down-and-out Nashville songwriter who dices with the devil and outwits him. Steeped in scatology and bawdy hippie barroom humor, the 50-minute piece aims at Rabelasian effects but mainly induces Shel shock before it arrives at the high point, a funny list song about a celebrity-packed wedding reception in hell.

It is performed with gravelly voiced gusto (and an impressive memory) by rock singer Dennis Locorriere. Authors whose more fully developed plays have been rejected by Lincoln Center must be wondering at the showcasing given to this juvenilia by Mamet's screenwriting pard.

Mamet is wrigint in a whimsical vein in "Bobby Gould in Hell," in which an ill-tempered devil upbraids a recently deceased candidate for the eternal flames in an anteroom of Hades, designed as a reading room in an old money private club ('Is A.R. Gurney writing a play about lowlife Chicago hustlers')

The sarcastic mod Lucifer, irritated because his fishing trip was interrupted, browbeats the anguuished defendant, a smoothie who habitually seduced and abandoned women. There's a conflict to be sure and some funny comedy of exasperation from the impatient interrogating devil who's played with sharp edges by W.H. Macy.

The devil and his grovelling aide produce a young woman victim on the sinner, and her exchanges with the devil are laughworthy. But Mamet doesn't bother much with logical progression or motivation. It's purely verbal comedy, often funny because he's such a gifted dialog writer but unsatisfying as a dramatic event.

Treat Williams does what the part calls for as the initially defensive, eventually contrite malefactor, and Felicity Huffman's indignant snippiness is enjoyable. But "Oh, Hell" is minor-league stuff.